Because ‘reboot’ is the Apocalypse’s middle name…

The word ‘reboot’ has been thrown around a lot lately – there’s no question about it. It’s not rocket science to notice the inherent drive within the studios to de-risk their investments (you have no idea how much I hate this corporate mumbo-jumbo), which has resulted in the last decade being unusually rich in sequels to successful franchises, remakes of the classics, and – the cherry on top of this cake – the establishment of ‘the reboot’ as a device in the film-making business. Continue reading

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Why a “Warcraft” film is a disaster waiting to happen…

Whenever something big happens that somehow pertains to the greater world of film, I can usually tell by the volume and content of my Feedly updates. And it just so happens that it’s that time of year when Comic Con rolls around and it is usually accompanied by a whole variety of unveilings, teasers, announcements that would make a nerd squeal with excitement. But it’s not the news about the upcoming Batman/Superman crossover (which has been disguised as “Man of Steel 2”), the details about “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, some allegedly sexy bits about “The Avengers 2”, nor any sequel/remake/reboot-related nonsense that caught my keen geeky glasses-clad eyes.

At this point I believe it is yesterday’s news, but in the interest of completeness I shall say that Legendary Pictures together with Warner Bros. during their panel have shown a short teaser of their upcoming “Warcraft” project, followed by a short chat with Duncan Jones – the film’s director. Well, the sad part is that if you haven’t been there in person, you will never see the teaser, but you can read various descriptions on blogs and news outlets, the most detailed of which was put together by the good folks at Screen Rant. “Warcraft” is slated for the already way too bloated summer of 2015 and is due to be shot next year. Up until now, the persistent lack of news about its development has found me troubling over the future of this film. Besides the scarce news tidbits about Sam Raimi leaving the project to make place for Duncan Jones and some script-related problems, there’s been nothing in the public domain that would shed any light on the development of “Warcraft”.

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As an avid fan of Blizzard Entertainment’s input into modern gaming culture I have to admit I am torn about all this. I have nothing but respect and love towards the fantastic World of Warcraft (and every now and again I have this recurring urge to re-subscribe and see how my paladin is doing), but there’s a number of reasons I don’t think adapting the rich, vibrant and immersive World of Warcraft for the big screen is ever going to work.

First and foremost, the whole idea is at least five years too late. Warcraft (the Real-Time Strategy from the way, way back) is no longer a mainstream e-sport and WoW is now nearly 10 years old. It’s still the biggest online gaming experience of any kind in the history of anything ever and there will likely never be another MMO behemoth of that magnitude, but now is definitely not the time to go and release a film. Now, anybody even remotely aware of how Blizzard Entertainment handles developing new products (be it new IP, or expansions and additions to their existing franchises) knows that these guys operate at glacial speed. While it is more than appropriate when it comes to polishing a brand new game – and anybody who spent a decade waiting for Starcraft or Diablo sequels will know exactly what I have in mind – the film world operates at much greater speed; so postponing a project ad infinitum, just so that the script is right and the night elves have the right belt buckles and what-not will most definitely harm the entirety of the project.

As it stands, the long overdue “Warcraft” project has been in early development for quite some time (7 years, to be exact) now, but in meantime the source material has been getting progressively older and more complex. Note, I have not used the word ‘stale’ because the good guys at Blizzard are bending over backwards on a day-to-day basis in order to expand the vast lore and provide their customers with the highest quality experience as humanly possible. But just like every single thing in life, even World of Warcraft has an expiration date and at this particular juncture we are more likely to be getting closer to seeing it. The player base is (and has been for a little while) slowly declining and eventually the World of Warcraft will die. It’s still far down the road, but starting a film franchise set in this world is by far the worst possible idea to rake in new subscribers; it has more to do with the particular nature of the Warcraft world and the way a new player is introduced to it, but nevertheless, a film will never jumpstart a revolutionary influx of fresh blood into the WoW servers. If anything, it might force a few raised eyebrows and questions of ‘is WoW still a thing?’ variety…

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As I said, the film should have been made 5 years ago to capitalize on the game’s humongous popularity, but the longer they’ve waited, the more hermetic the community has become and now that it’s been a long time since it peaked, the odds of the film actually making a big splash are slim to none. I think it goes without saying that a high-profile fantasy picture that needs to be large in scale will require a formidable budget. It worries me that “Warcraft” at the time of release (surrounded by a tidal wave of remakes and sequels also slated for that summer) will find it difficult to woo the movie-goers into buying a ticket. Looking at how non-sequels are doing nowadays in terms of box-office performance I can only anticipate “Warcraft” to become that summer’s biggest bomb. With a budget well into nine figures, this project will struggle to offer anything of substance to an unfamiliar viewer. Maybe if everyone in the world who at some point in their life had anything to do with Warcraft went and bought a ticket, the film would maybe make enough to be profitable, but I find it highly unlikely.

Besides all that, what is “Warcraft” going to be about anyway? Speaking from a position of someone who enjoys the Warcraft lore and has read most of the books and related extended universe, I can tell you that much – it’s in no way easy to come up with a story that would be appropriate for the screen at this point. If it were 5 or 6 years ago, that’s completely different, but now I can’t really see how it could unfold.

Usually, a well-established universe will have one or two story arcs that it’s built upon that can be easily adapted for the screen. Take Tolkien’s world for instance: it’s quite obvious that stories like “The lord of the rings” or “Hobbit” are no-brainers when it comes to film-making. No-one in their right mind would take an obscure tale from “Silmarillion” and try to have the viewer enter this world through a back door. Well, with the Warcraft world it’s not that easy, because you can’t really point your finger at a single story that could carry the load and catapult the entire world onto the screen; and if there are stories that definitely deserve that title, there are far too many of them. Cramming them all into one feature (or a trilogy, which is the trend nowadays) I perceive as very risky, because the time-limited nature of the big screen would force the crucial features of the universe to be brushed over, and many arcs omitted or neglected. Plus, in case of a planned trilogy, everything would hinge upon the success of the first one, which is not that likely taking into account the competition in the box office.

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I think that when it comes to finding a suitable story to tell, that would introduce the newcomers to the universe and at the same time satisfy the massive fan-base (which I would hope to be bigger than just the active subscribers), the task is nigh impossible. The bipolar nature of the world and its lore (and the community which is known for its whining, moaning, groaning and table-flipping) with the inhabitants of Azeroth divided into two factions (Alliance and Horde, for the lay men) I believe that whatever the choice, some large group of people will end up disappointed, neglected, and/or offended.

If, hypothetically, “Warcraft” adapted an already existing arc from the lore, it’s more than likely that the story would have an angle that puts one of the factions in a negative light. While it’s perfectly acceptable for most of the established franchises (the Sith rarely get any love, and Sauron probably never had a fan-club) where the stories in general pit the good against the forces of evil, it most certainly does not apply here at all. The world in the Warcraft universe is painted in all shades of grey and one can just as easily cherry-pick story arcs that would glorify the Alliance over the Horde, as well as the other way round. So, any of the most epic arcs in the lore (be it the story of Medivh, the fall of Arthas, Thrall’s reunification of the Horde, or the first re-emergence of Deathwing) can be told through various viewpoints that are equally as valid.

It can all be circumvented by referring to the extended lore that pre-dates anything Warcraft players can feel strongly about, but then again – it would be equivalent to adapting “Silmarillion”. Anything that is removed from the main stream of Warcraft lore is in my opinion too obscure to suit anybody who is not versed in the subject. Simply put, only the nerds would cheer – nobody else.

Artwork depicts characters from the hit online game "World of Warcraft."

Finally, the film adaptation can either re-tell any of the current lore developments that WoW subscribers have lived through in raids, dungeons, daily quests or global events, or introduce something completely new that would support what is to come in future expansions to the game. Either way, it’s a risky position to put oneself in, because the Warcraft community is well-known for its zealous criticism of any new developments prior and during release. Plus, the existing world of Warcraft is already bloated with arcs, races and side factions that are comedic in nature and their sole purpose is to provide relief from any serious business that carries on in the background of lore, but are still integral parts to the world and omitting them would not be well received. So, it might be rather difficult to try and cater to as many people as possible, while portraying the world in a serious and fair manner and trying to stay epic in scale. Because, how else to bring a world that huge and colorful to life, if not in the grandest of ways…

So this is why I fear that “Warcraft” will fail to live up to the expectations, while the expected audiences would flood the cinemas to see the next “Avengers” or “Star Wars”. The community that has been waiting for this film for way too long cannot be satisfied at this point in time due to the size and complexity of the world, as well as the difficulties in unbiased portrayal of the major story arcs. Let’s face it – it’s just too late now.

Having said all that, I’ll still go and see “Warcraft” when it hits the screens (and will choose it over any other blockbuster, for that matter) and if none of my predictions actually come true, I’ll gladly eat my own words. Quite frankly, I’m quietly counting on it, because I’d like everybody else to see how awesome it is to be part of this world.

“Evil Dead (2013)” – The Rollercoaster Of Gore

Finally, the demons are out… This mind is clear… for a minute. I can’t believe I actually got round to writing this after a couple of rants I had to go on in order to keep my brain working properly. It was a busy week film-wise and in order to make the most of it I ended up spending my entire Tuesday evening in the cinema watching movies back to back.

Ok, that would be enough waffle, thank you very much. I’m not very big on remakes and if you had the pleasure to read what I think about Hollywood at the minute, you’d know that going to see the remake of “Evil Dead” didn’t come all that easy. Especially when it comes to remaking the horror genre in particular, the effects are most often piss poor, but that’s not why I’m here now, is it?

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What I think helped ease me into how Fede Alvarez envisioned bringing Sam Raimi’s debut feature back from the dead, was a simple fact that up until last week I hadn’t seen the original. I quickly corrected that little detail and thus went to the cinema prepared rather well (well, I failed to re-watch the sequels, but I’ll get on with them soon enough, just to keep the atmosphere alive for a little while longer).

Well, I should really emphasize that the final moments leading up the projection made my heart go a bit faster, as I clearly had fallen prey to “Evil Dead’s” viral campaign of ‘how this film is supposed to mess you up for life’. So, there I was sitting in silence surrounded a bunch of strangers. Some a-hole screamed, as if to reassure everyone that he wasn’t anxious. The lights went dim… I blinked… for one last time… And it was all over. All of a sudden, 90 minutes of my life just raced in front of my eyes and I woke up after the post-credit teaser (Yes, there is one. Stay there and look at it).

What I felt while leaving my seat can’t be easily put into words. The closest analogue of that would be the feeling you have having just left a rollercoaster ride, and not just a rollercoaster ride; it’s the rollercoaster ride you’d remember till the end of your days. The amount of adrenaline streaming down my veins could easily wake up a couple of corpses. “Evil Dead” made me feel happy to be alive, so to speak, as if I just had dodged death by an inch or something to that effect.

Emotions aside, “Evil dead” in the eyes of Fede Alvarez took Raimi’s debut made on a nonexistent budget and elevated it to the modern standards – in a good way. If anything, this is how remakes should be done, in my opinion. 30 years ago, the original “Evil Dead” scared the living poop out of countless thousands of people. Now, you can look at it only in two ways: either with reverential respect to a timeless classic, or with a weird grin on your face pondering, how something like that could have scared anyone in the first place. This is what time does to films like that – horrors especially. Films that draw on emotional responses (threat, fear, disgust) wear off after a while, and decades after, they’re simply dead. It takes a passionate individual who understands the matter he is sculpting to carve it out into a film that would revive said emotions and hopefully amplify them in a way, so that the remake can stand on its own two feet.

This time it worked in a phenomenal way.

2013’s “Evil Dead” starts off with the very same concept as the original. A group of friends travels to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. Contrary to the original, however, instead of trying to kick back in the wilderness, these individuals are on a mission. They are trying to help one of them – Mia (Jane Levy) – tackle her drug problem. Some people say that the film spends far too much time establishing the characters, but I don’t really have a problem with that. Fair enough, maybe we could theorize that the film doesn’t need David (Shiloh Fernandez) to spell it out for everyone, how messed up his relationship with Mia really was. But then again, a horror needs to do that; otherwise the butchering that comes next would be irrelevant. If I don’t care about the characters, then it doesn’t matter how many appendages they will have chopped off. I believe Alvarez was fully aware of that, so he spent nearly half the film making me care. Good.

 

Where was I? Right, a handful of friends arrive at the cabin, where they discover a variety of tools (their existence is well explained, no plot holes there), which makes the whole cabin look like a gigantic Chekhov’s gun, as you know these tools will be used sooner than you think to torture our characters. They also stumble upon some nasty witchcraft-related things in the basement, among which they find a book. A book written in blood, with some really nasty imagery, with a cover made of skin (human skin), wrapped in plastic and barbed wire – clearly someone went to ridiculous lengths to make sure no-one would read it. And of course, among our protagonists there’s Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) – a self-proclaimed scientist who sees challenges where everyone else would see a warning. Therefore he un-wraps the book and takes his time to decipher some incantations found within. When he reads them aloud (as I would too, fellow scientists would understand) – the horror begins… A demon wakes up in the woods and he will not stop until he has feasted on their souls… starting off with Mia. Initially nobody wants to believe her, when she spouts nonsense about things she saw in the forest or the dark presence she felt in the cabin, dismissing them as detox-related hallucinations. Shortly thereafter, people start dying and the blood starts spilling. And it doesn’t stop until the very last second of the film.

Hands down, “Evil Dead” is by far the bloodiest, most violent film I have seen. However, contrary to what I had expected, my stomach handled everything splendidly. Maybe the fact I knew I was watching a work of fiction had something to do with it, but I had worse reactions to “127 hours” and “The Impossible” in recent memory. Anyway, when the gore machine started rolling, it didn’t leave any room for breathing. In all actuality, the pacing of the film felt a bit like a rollercoaster ride, wherein you spent 90 seconds going up very slowly in waiting only to spend another 90 seconds screaming like a little girl. It was exactly like that. I would never think a horror movie could be that exhilarating. And by the end it was just bananas. Blood everywhere, severed limbs, nails, chainsaws, box-cutters – the whole shebang.

In summary, I had a blast. The special effects were very (!!!) convincing, the blood and gore were properly disgusting and the sense of threat was unrelenting. Each minute of the film – once the slaughter had started – kept cranking up the gain on the horror. As a result the big finale was simply unforgettable. Due homage was paid to Sam Raimi (a couple of his signature close-up wide-angle shots and a handful of props pointing to the original), but as a whole Alvarez managed to keep a good amount of individuality. His take on “Evil dead” is seriously scary and violent, but it manages to be funny at times of the greatest carnage. In fact, the whole idea of Pucci’s scientist character borders on hilarious, especially when you consider how big of a beating this guy takes in the film.

If there are remakes that stand above the shameful crowd of knock-offs, “Evil Dead” is surely one of them. It’s a nearly perfect horror movie that doesn’t have the desire to join the club of any mainstream sub-genres. If anything, I would expect others to jump on the “Evil Dead” band wagon soon enough and start the wave of ‘torture porn meets The Exorcist’.

The Blind Spot #2 – “Evil Dead” (1981)

It has just occurred to me that in my nearly 30-year-long life I have not seen the original “Evil Dead”. I’ve seen the other two, but the first one… stood there exactly in my blind spot. See what I did there?

Anyway, the reason I’m now sitting and writing is because I am planning to go and see the remake some time during the weekend (it opens in the UK this Friday) and I like going to class prepared. I have to come out and say that I have been a bit hesitant as I hear It’s supposed to be super gory and brutal. But we’ll see about that – challenge accepted. However, whilst plowing through tonnes of articles praising and/or bashing Fede Alvarez’s remake of the cult classic, it just hit me…

Holy crap! I’ve seen “Army of Darkness”, I’ve seen “Evil Dead 2” (exactly in that order – weird right?), but not the first one. Quickly! To the Batmobile! I mean Netflix… It’s not there… Quickly! Lovefilm! Boom! Jackpot! In less than five minutes since I have realized that, I was already watching Ash and the gang roll up to the cabin in the woods. Note to self: Investigate whether the motif of the rundown cabin in the middle of nowhere can be traced back further than Raimi’s “Evil Dead”…

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I realize it might hurt, but as of now, in 2013, and being my age, I clearly don’t understand the hype and consequently – I’m not going to join the cult. I’m sorry, but the original “Evil Dead” is just OK.  It’s bloody and all, but there isn’t enough for me to love it, which makes me think about how all the fantastic reviews out there are written by deadite fundamentalists who adore this movie with religious zeal. On top of that, it is annoying at times to be forced to sit through this ear-piercing shrieking and other infuriating vocal skills of the deadites, as if it was done on purpose. But anyhow…

I was really pleasantly surprised by Raimi’s camerawork, which was very inventive and unusual. He has clearly earned his place in the annals of horror with this one, but it may have been too late for me to be able to fall in love with it. I was taken aback by the amount of gore and violence (plasticky and old-school, but still very persuasive and serious) and now that I’m trying to put it in context of the remake that I’m about to see, I think Alvarez might have tried (and maybe even succeeded?) to pay due homage to Raimi. Because the way I see it (and apparently Bruce Campbell sees it this way too), had Raimi been born 30 or 40 years later and had he been planning to debut with “Evil Dead” just now instead, I think the result would be just as gory and scary as the media make the remake out to be. Raimi’s “Evil Dead” is no parody that his own sequel/remake and the third one all turned out to be. It’s seriously bloody and horrific – for its time. But nothing more than that, I was sorry to find.

 

At least I can cross it off my list of ‘things to see before I die’. It was nice enough 80 minutes (with the occasional ‘OMG, why can’t she stop screaming?!’), however, I failed to see the supposed Campbell’s charisma that apparently propelled the movie to its cult status. I understand that “Evil Dead” has managed to embed itself into the pop culture with its imagery and the horror creators to this day – knowingly or otherwise – wink towards Raimi’s debut one way or another. Maybe that’s where the cult is, though…

So, if like me, you haven’t seen the original “Evil Dead” yet, go and see it. Stream it, rent it or just buy it. Maybe it’s not a timeless classic by my standards, but it is – even now – a very good horror. It clearly broke new ground in terms of what you can show on the screen and still get away with it (the forest scene says hello) and every serious horror aficionado should know it. Also, the photography – really characteristic and unforgettable. And now, finally, after years of ignorance I can join the club. I didn’t love it religiously, but liked it enough to watch it again in some time.

Now if you excuse me, I’ll go and re-watch the remaining two “Evil Dead” movies before I venture to the cinema to see the remake.

 

Shortcake #3 – “Panic attack!” and “Mamá”

In a blink of an eye, yet another week has passed. It makes you stop and think about the transience of life… But who has the time. Instead of that, I’m just glad I get to have my weekend again. This also means I get to share some shorts again. I’ve been really hard at work trying to figure out the direction this column will have (I get to call it a column now, right?) and while I’d really like to showcase mostly new things that I dig out myself or stumble across while trawling blogs and websites, I think I’d like to reserve some space for shorts that already belong in the past.

Mama - Panic Attack

Tonight I’d like to share these two very short forms that have more in common that one would imagine in the first place. I specifically chose these films, even though initially I wanted to write about something different (I might do it next week still if nothing better falls in my lap). The reason I decided to put them side by side is that they had been the perfect vehicles for their creators to get fished out from the crowd and given an opportunity to show the world what they’re capable of.

And so, the first film of the day – “Panic attack!” from 2009 by Fede Alvarez – is a meticulously crafted account of aliens(?) attacking Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay). It’s very short and bullet-like and reminiscent of a video clip rather than of a movie in its traditional sense. What is the most interesting in my opinion about “Panic attack!” is that its budget amounted to 300$, which is quite impressive when you examine the quality of the film. It’s really well shot and the special effects hold up to the modern sci-fi standards. Certainly, you’re unable to smell the cheapness that is far too common among the amateur science fiction.

 

I dare say that the perfectionist quality and passion that went into this little project had something to do with the fact that Fede Alvarez – a film-maker who has done nothing more than father a couple of short movies – was chosen by Sam Raimi to direct a remake of “Evil Dead” – one of the most important horror movies of all time (have a look at the red band trailer if you dare) and by the looks of it, come April 2013 we’re going to experience a whole new level of ‘horror’.

The second feature of the day is “Mamá” by Andrés Muschietti – created back in 2008, but released in December of 2012 as a part of marketing campaign for a full-length feature of the same title. That’s right. “Mama”, that is now running in cinemas across the pond and is about to drop in the UK in a month’s time, is what “Mamá” could have never been; a properly funded horror story with a professional cast and everything.

 

“Mamá” is a ghost story about two girls whose mother doesn’t want to leave them alone. It’s not exactly a story even, but more of an extended scene. However, it was more than enough for Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) to notice the young director’s talent and allow him to tell the story the way it was supposed to be told. Now, I haven’t seen the feature film yet, but I’m more than keen to watch it once it opens in The Rainy Isles.

All in all, I give you “Panic attack!” and “Mamá” – two films that share more than just Spanish-speaking directors. They both tell me I should pay closer attention to the short form, as one day I might be a witness to the birth of a glamorous career of a fantastic talent.